Source: Rev. Claude Hermann Walter Johns, Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904). Chapter: II: THE CODE OF HAMMURABI and THE PROLOGUE AND EPILOGUE TO THE CODE OF HAMMURABI
Copyright: The text is in the public domain.
Fair Use: This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
§ 2. If a man has accused another of laying a kišpu (spell) upon him, but has not proved it, the accused shall go to the sacred river, he shall plunge into the sacred river, and if the sacred river shall conquer him, he that accused him shall take possession of his house. If the sacred river shall show his innocence and he is saved, his accuser shall be put to death. He that plunged into the sacred river shall appropriate the house of him that accused him.
§ 10. If the alleged buyer on his part has not produced the seller or the witnesses before whom the sale took place, but the owner of the lost property on his part has produced the witnesses who identify it as his, then the [pretended] buyer is the thief; he shall be put to death. The owner of the lost property shall take his lost property.
§ 11. If, on the other hand, the claimant of the lost property has not brought the witnesses that know his lost property, he has been guilty of slander, he has stirred up strife, he shall be put to death.
§ 12. If the seller has in the meantime died, the buyer shall take from his estate fivefold the value sued for.
§ 18. If such a slave will not name his owner, his captor shall bring him to the palace, where he shall be examined as to his past and returned to his owner.
§ 19. If the captor has secreted that slave in his house and afterward that slave has been caught in his possession, he shall be put to death.
§ 20. If the slave has fled from the hands of his captor, the latter shall swear to the owner of the slave and he shall be free from blame.
§ 23. If the highwayman has not been caught, the man that has been robbed shall state on oath what he has lost and the city or district governor in whose territory or district the robbery took place shall restore to him what he has lost.
§ 24. If a life [has been lost], the city or district governor shall pay one mina of silver to the deceased’s relatives.
§ 27. If a levy-master, or warrant-officer, has been assigned to garrison duty, and in his absence his field and garden have been given to another who has carried on his duty, when the absentee has returned and regained his city, his field and garden shall be given back to him and he shall resume his duty.
§ 29. If the son be a child and is not able to carry on his father’s duty, one-third of the field and garden shall be given to his mother to educate him.
§ 31. If for one year only he has let things go to waste and he has returned, his field, garden, and house shall be given him, and he himself shall carry on his duty.
§ 36. The field, garden, or house, of a levy-master, warrant-officer, or tributary shall not be sold.
§ 37. If a man has bought field, garden, or house, of a levy-master, a warrant-officer, or tributary, his title-deed shall be destroyed and he shall lose his money. He shall return the field, garden, or house to its owner.
§ 39. From the field, garden, or house which he has bought and acquired, he shall make bequests to his wife, or daughter, or shall assign for his debt.
§ 43. If he has not cultivated the field and has left it alone, he shall give to the owner of the field an average rent, and the field which he has neglected he shall break up with mattocks and plough it, and shall return it to the owner of the field.
§ 46. If he has not received the rent of his field, whether he let it for a half, or for a third, of the crop, the farmer and the owner of the field shall share the corn that is left in the field, according to their agreement.
§ 50. If the field he gave was [already] cultivated, or the sesame was grown up, the owner of the field shall take the corn, or sesame, that has been grown in the field, and shall return the money and its interest to the merchant.
§ 51. If he has not money enough, he shall give to the merchant sesame, or corn, according to its market price, for the money which he took from the merchant and its interest, according to the king’s standard.
§ 52. If the bailiff has not reared corn or sesame in the field the debtor’s obligation shall not be lessened.
§ 56. If a man has let out the waters and they flood the young plants in his neighbor’s field, he shall measure out ten gur of corn for each gan of land.
§ 58. If, after the sheep have come up out of the meadows and have passed into the common fold at the city gate, a shepherd has placed his sheep in a field and caused his sheep to feed in the field, the shepherd shall keep the field he has grazed, and, at harvest-time, he shall measure out to the owner sixty gur of corn for each gan of land.
§§ 60, 61. If a man has given a field to a gardener to plant a garden and the gardener has planted the garden, he shall train the garden four years; in the fifth year the owner of the garden and the gardener shall share the garden equally, the owner of the garden shall gather his share and take it. . If the gardener, in planting the garden, has not planted all, but has left a bare patch, he shall reckon the bare patch in his share.
§ 62. If he has not planted the field which was given him as a garden; then, if it was arable land, the gardener shall measure out to the owner of the field an average rent for the years that were neglected, and shall perform the stipulated work on the field (i.e., make it into a garden), and return it to the owner of the field.
§ 63. If the land was uncultivated, he shall do the stipulated work on the field, and return to the owner of the field and shall measure out for each year ten gur of corn for each gan.
§ 65. If the gardener has not tilled the garden and has diminished the yield, the gardener shall pay an average rent.
Here came the five erased columns, of which the three following sections are restored from copies in Ashurbânipal’s library:
The prologue and epilogue of the Code are very difficult to translate. Often the phrases are simply stock expressions which occur in most of the royal inscriptions. The meanings of many of these have degenerated to mere titles of courtesy and their original significance is obscure. But early translators found no difficulty in guessing the most complimentary things to say, and more recent scholars in their efforts to be exact become grotesque. When an ancient king called himself a “rabid buffalo” it doubtless gave him satisfaction, but it would be very rude for us to do so. On the other hand, it is very tiresome to an English reader to read a sentence of three hundred lines in length before coming to a principal verb. Such a sentence, a string of epithets and participles, is here broken up into short clauses and the participles turned into finite verbs. This is done, not because the translator is entirely ignorant of grammar, but in pity for the reader. This further necessitates turning the third person singular, in which the king speaks of himself, like a modern acceptance of an invitation to dinner, into the more simple direct narration in the first person. Anyone who wishes to compare this translation with the original will please recall that this is done for ease in understanding, not because the original was misunderstood.
A more serious difficulty is, that, as it was customary to apply the same honorific titles to both a god and the king, it is often uncertain to which the original meant to apply them. This may have been left intentionally vague. Some translators have taken on themselves to settle to which they will refer the epithet, to the god or to the king. Such translations are only interesting as a record of private opinions. They settle nothing, do not even give a presumption in favor of anything. It is more honest to leave the translation as vague as the original, when this can be done. This part of the stele is full of rare words, or what is just as bad, words which invariably occur in the same context. If a king calls himself by some strange honorific title, it is no assistance to understanding the meaning of it that a score of successors should do the same. Of many words, all we can conjecture is that the king was honored by them. There is nothing to indicate what they really meant. In some cases “mighty” is as likely to be correct as “wise.” There is no reason why we should prefer either rendering. Both can hardly be right, neither may really be. Some king may once have prided himself on being an expert potter, as a modern monarch might on being a photographer. If he called himself on a monument a “superb potter,” all his successors would keep the title, though they never made a pot in their lives. We have only to peruse the titles of modern monarchs to be sure of the fact. It is, therefore, to be hoped that no one will build any far-reaching theories upon logical deductions from the translations given here or elsewhere of such honorific titles.
When the most high God (Anu), king of the spirits of heaven (Anunnaki),(and)Bêl, lord of heaven and earth, who settles the fates of all, allotted to Marduk, the first-born of Ea, the lord God of right, a rule over men and extolled him among the spirits of earth (Igigi), then they nominated for Babylon a name above all, they made it renowned in all quarters, and in the midst of it they founded an everlasting sovereignty, whose seat is established like heaven and earth; then did God (Anu) and Bêl call me by name, Hammurabi, the high prince, god-fearing, to exemplify justice in the land, to banish the proud and oppressor, that the great should not despoil the weak, to rise like the sun over the black-headed race (mankind) and illumine the land, to give health to all flesh. ammurabi the (good) shepherd, the choice of Bêl, am I, the completer of plenty and abundance, the fulfiller of every purpose. For Nippur, and Dûrili (epithet of Nippur or part of it?), I highly adorned ê-kur (the temple of Bêl there). In powerful sovereignty I restored Eridu and cleansed ê-zu-ab (temple of Ea there). By onslaughts on every side (the four quarters) I magnified the name of Babylon and rejoiced the heart of Marduk my lord. Every day I stood in ê-sag-gil (the temple of Marduk at Babylon). Descendant of kings whom Sin had begotten, I enriched the city of Ur, and humbly adoring, was a source of abundance to ê-ner-nu-gal (the temple of Sin at Ur). A king of knowledge, instructed by Shamash the judge, I strongly established Sippara, reclothed the rear of the shrine of Aya (the consort of Shamash), and planned out ê-bab-bar (temple of Shamash at Sippara) like a dwelling in heaven. In arms I avenged Larsa (held by the Elamite, Rim-Sin), and restored ê-bab-bar (temple of Shamash at Larsa) for Shamash my helper. As overlord I gave fresh life to Erech, furnishing abundance of water to its people, and completed the spire of ê-an-na (temple of Nanâ at Erech). I completed the glory of Anu and Ninni. As a protector of my land, I reassembled the scattered people of Nisin (recently reconquered from the Elamites) and replenished the treasury of ê-gal-ma (temple of Nisin). As the royal potentate of the city and own brother of its god Zamama, I enlarged the palace at Kish and surrounded with splendor ê-me-te-ur-sag (the temple at Kish). I made secure the great shrine of Ninni. I ordered the temple of arsagkalama ê-ki-sal-nakiri, by whose assistance I attained my desire. I restored Kutha and increased everything at ê-sid-lam (the temple there). Like a charging bull, I bore down my enemies. Beloved of tu-tu (a name of Marduk) in my love for Borsippa, of high purpose untiring, I cared for ê-zi-da (temple of Nabû there). As a god, king of the city, knowing and farseeing, I looked to the plantations of Dilbat and constructed its granaries for ib (the god of Dilbat) the powerful, the lord of the insignia, the sceptre and crown, with which he invested me. As the beloved of ma-ma (consort of ib), I set fast the bas-reliefs at Kish and renewed the holy meals for Erishtu (goddess of Kish). With foresight and power I ordered the pasturages and watering-places for Sirpurla and Girsu and arranged the extensive offerings in ê-50 (the temple of “the fifty” at Sirpurla). I scattered my enemies. As the favorite of Telitim (a god), I fulfilled the oracles of allab and rejoiced the heart of gis-dar (its goddess). Grand prince, whose prayers Adad knows well, I soothed the heart of Adad, the warrior in Bît Karkara. I fastened the ornaments in ê-ud-gal-gal (temple there). As a king who gave life to Adab, I repaired ê-ma (temple at Adab). As hero and king of the city, unrivalled combatant, I gave life to Mashkan-Shabri and poured forth abundance on sit-lam (temple of Nêrgal there). The wise, the restorer, who had conquered the whole of the rebellious, I rescued the people of Malkâ in trouble. I strengthened their abodes with every comfort. For Ea and dam-gal-nun-na I increased their rule and in perpetuity appointed the lustrous offerings. As a leader and king of the city, I made the settlements on the Euphrates to be populous. As client of Dagan, who begat me, I avenged the people of Mera and Tutul. As high prince, I made the face of Ninni to shine, making the lustrous meals of nin-a-zu secure. I reunited my people in famine by assuring their allowances within Babylon in peace and security. As the shepherd of my people, a servant whose deeds were acceptable to gis-dar in e-ul-mash (temple of Anunit) in the midst of Agade, noted for its wide squares, I settled the rules and set straight the Tigris. I brought back to Asshur the gracious colossus and settled the altar (?). As king of Nineveh I made the waters of Ninni to shine in ê-dup-dup. High of purpose and wise in achievement for the great gods, descendant of Sumu-lâil, eldest son of Sin-muballi?, long descended scion of royalty, great king, a very Shamash (or sun) of Babylon, I caused light to arise upon Sumer and Akkad. A king who commanded obedience in all the four quarters, beloved of Ninni am I. When Marduk brought me to direct all people and commissioned me to give judgment, I laid down justice and right in the provinces, I made all flesh to prosper. Then—(the words of the Code are the completion of the sentence. The king implies that its regulations were the outcome of this legislative decision).
The judgments of righteousness which Hammurabi, the powerful king, settled, and caused the land to receive a sure polity and a gracious rule.
I am Hammurabi, the superb king. Marduk gave me to shepherd the black-headed race, whom Bêl had assigned me. I did not forget, I did not neglect, I found for them safe pastures, I opened the way through sharp rocks, and gave them guidance. With the powerful weapon that Zamama and Ishtar granted me, by the foresight with which Ea endowed me, with the power that Marduk gave me, I cut off the enemy above and below, I lorded it over the conquered. The flesh of the land I made to rejoice. I extended the dwellings of the people in security. I left them no cause to fear. The great gods chose me and I am the shepherd that gives peace, whose club is straight; of evil and good in my city I was the director. I carried all the people of Sumer and Akkad in my bosom. By my protection, I guided in peace its brothers. By my wisdom, I provided for them. That the great should not oppress the weak, to counsel the widow and orphan, in Babylon, the city of Anu and Bêl, I raised up its head (the stele’s) in ê-sag-gil (temple of Marduk there), the temple whose foundation is firm as the heaven and earth. To judge the judgment of the land, to decide the decisions of the land, to succor the injured, I wrote on my stele the precious words and placed them before my likeness, that of a righteous king. The king that is gentle, king of the city, exalted am I. My words are precious, my power has no rival. By the order of Shamash, the judge supreme, of heaven and earth, that judgment may shine in the land; by the permission of Marduk, my lord, I set up a bas-relief, to preserve my likeness in ê-sag-gil that I love, to commemorate my name forever in gratitude. The oppressed who has a suit to prosecute may come before my image, that of a righteous king, and read my inscription and understand my precious words and may my stele elucidate his case. Let him see the law he seeks and may he draw in his breath and say: “This Hammurabi was a ruler who was to his people like the father that begot them. He obeyed the order of Marduk his lord, he followed the commands of Marduk above and below. He delighted the heart of Marduk his lord, and granted happy life to his people forever. He guided the land.” Let him recite the document. Before Marduk, my lord, and ?arpanitum, my lady, with full heart let him draw near. The colossus and the gods that live in ê-sag-gil, or the courts of ê-sag-gil, let him bless every day before Marduk, my lord, and ?arpanitum, my lady.
In the future, in days to come, at any time, let the king who is in the land, guard the words of righteousness which I have written on my stele. Let him not alter the judgment of the land which I judged nor the decisions I decided. Let him not destroy my basrelief. If that man has wisdom and is capable of directing his land, let him attend to the words which I have written upon my stele, let him apprehend the path, the rule, the law of the land which I judged, and the decision I decided for the land, and so let him guide forward the black-headed race; let him judge their judgment and decide their decision, let him cut off from his land the proud and violent, let him rejoice the flesh of his people. Hammurabi, the king of righteousness, to whom Shamash has granted rights, am I. My words are precious, my deeds have no rival. Above and below I am the whirlwind that scours the deep and the height. If that man has hearkened to my words which I have written on my stele and has not frustrated justice, has not altered my words, has not injured my bas-reliefs, may Shamash make lasting his sceptre; like me, as a king of righteousness, let him guide his people in justice.
But if that man does not hearken to my words which I wrote on my stele, forgets my curses, fears not the malediction of God, sets aside the judgment which I judged, alters my words and destroys my bas-reliefs, effaces my inscribed name and writes in his own name; or, for fear of these curses has charged another to do so; that man, be he king, lord, patêsi, or noble, whose name is ever so renowned, may the great god (Anu), the father of gods, who named my reign, turn him back, shatter his sceptre in pieces, curse his fortunes; may Bêl the lord who fixes the fates, whose command is not set aside, who extended my sovereignty, cause for him an endless revolt, an impulse to fly from his home, and set for his fortune a reign of sighs, short days, years of want, darkness that has no ray of light and a death in the sight of all men. May he decree with his heavy curse the ruin of his city, the scattering of his people, the removal of his sovereignty, the disappearance of his name and his race from the land. May Beltu, the great mother, whose command is weighty in ê-kur, the lady who made my plans prosperous, make his words in the matter of justice and law to be hateful before Bêl. May she bring about the downfall of his country, the loss of his people, the efflux of his life like water, by the order of the Bêl, the king. May Ea, the grand prince, whose destiny takes premier rank, the messenger of the gods, who knows all, who has prolonged my life, distort his understanding and intellect, curse him with forgetfulness, dam up his rivers at their source. In his land may Ashnan (the deity of wheat), the life of the people, not grow. May Shamash, great judge of heaven and earth, who governs the creatures of life, the lord of help, cut off his sovereignty; judge not his judgment; carry away his path; annihilate the march of his armies; cast an evil look upon him to uproot his rule, and fix for him the loss of his land. May the evil sentence of Shamash quickly overwhelm him; deprive him of life among the living above; and below in the earth, deprive his ghost of water. May Sin, the lord of the sky, the god who creates, whose ray is splendid among the gods, deprive him of crown and throne of kinship; surround him with a great shirt of pain, a heavy penalty, that will not leave his body, and make him finish his days, month by month, through the years of his reign, in tears and sighs. May he multiply for him the burden of royalty. May he grant him as his lot a life that can only be likened to death. May Adad, lord of abundance, great bull of the sky, and the earth, my helper, withdraw the rain from the heavens, the floods from the springs; destroy his land with hunger and want; thunder in wrath over his city, and turn his land to deluge mounds. May Zamama, great warrior, first born of ê-kur, who goes at my right hand on the battlefield, shatter his weapon and turn for him day into night. May he place his enemy over him. May Ishtar, the lady of conflict and battle, who prospered my arms, my gracious protector, who loved my reign, in her heart of rage, her boundless fury, curse his sovereignty; turn all his mercies to curses, shatter his weapon in conflict and battle, appoint him trouble and sedition, strike down his heroes, and make the earth drink of their blood, scatter the plain with heaps of the carcasses of his troops, grant them no burial; deliver himself into the hands of his enemy, cause him to be carried in chains to the enemy’s land. May Nêrgal, the powerful one of the gods, who meets with no rival, who caused me to obtain my triumphs, burn up his people with a fever like a great fire among the reeds. With his powerful weapon may he drink him up, with his fevers crush him like a statue of clay. May Erishtu, the exalted lady of all lands, the creator-mother, carry off his son and leave him no name. May he not beget a seed of posterity among his people. May Nin-karrak, the daughter of Anu, the completer of my mercies in ê-kur, award him a severe malady, a grievous illness, a painful wound, which cannot be healed, of which the physician knows not the origin, which cannot be soothed by the bandage; and rack him with palsy, until she has mastered his life; may she weaken his strength. May the great gods of heaven and earth, the Anunnaki, in their assembly, who look after the halls and the courts of this Ê-bar-ra (temple of Shamash at Sippara, where the stele was clearly set up), curse with a bitter curse his dynasty, his land, his soldiers, his people, and his subjects. May the judgments of Bêl, which in his mouth are irrevocable, curse him and quickly overcome him.
Last modified April 13, 2016